#2 Take Rigorous Classes
Take academically rigorous classes ALL four years. You should carry as many challenging courses as you can handle—college prep, Advanced Placement (AP), honors, and International Baccalaureate (IB).
#3 Take Practice Tests
Practice taking the SAT or ACT. Become familiar with the types of material covered and test directions. Take the PSAT during your sophomore year. Determine what knowledge and skills you lack and master them for actual tests.
Take advantage of free online SAT or ACT materials, study guides, practice tests, tutors, and prep courses before or during your junior year.
#4 Take Both SAT & ACT
Try taking both the SAT and ACT. Colleges will accept either test. You may do better on one test than the other. This will boost your chances for admission.
Take the SAT or ACT more than once if you are not satisfied with your scores.
#5 Take Subject & AP Tests
Take SAT Subject Tests and AP Tests. Competitive colleges may require you to take some of these exams and they take note of exam results. Only AP scores of 5 are accepted by top colleges.
#6 Write College Essays
Spend sufficient time developing your college essays. Think and reflect before you write. Write, edit, rewrite. This is your opportunity to sell yourself. Make yourself appear energetic, exciting, passionate, and intellectually curious.
How can you make the real “you” stand out from the rest of the crowd? Get feedback on the essays from your teachers and/or other school personnel.
#7 Do Extra-Curricular Activities
Become involved in your school and/or community during all four years and summer vacations. You need to document your involvement in extracurricular and co-curricular activities, sports, and/or volunteer activities in your community. Move up to leadership positions. Demonstrate growth. Develop a deep interest or talent in one or more areas.
Some of these activities can directly connect to a future college major (for example, being a reporter or editor of your school newspaper or working at a local newspaper and becoming a journalism major).
#8 Get School Recommendations
Ask teachers who know you well and your school counselor for recommendations. At least a month in advance of college deadlines for recommendations, jog their memories by providing them with a “personal data” or “brag sheet” highlighting your academic accomplishments, athletics, activities, and community service work and leadership positions.
Also, highlight anything special you did during the summer (for example, foreign travel to improve language skills, volunteer work, projects).
#9 Prepare for Interviews
Prepare for on-campus interviews, if required by colleges. Re-read your essays and any information you have acquired on specific colleges. Be friendly and articulate.
Dress like a winner—not casually. After the interviews, send thank you notes or e-mails expressing your continued interest in their institution.
#10 Search for Colleges Early
Decrease your stress by starting your search for colleges early—not later than the start of your junior year. This gives you adequate time to work on researching colleges, completing applications, writing essays, and taking necessary exams.
#11 Get Organized
Get organized and stay focused. Make a file folder for each college that interests you and put relevant information inside of it (for example, a copy of your application and essay, and material downloaded from the Internet).
#12 Ask for Help
Get on-going assistance from your school counselor and teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of them no matter how simple they may seem.